Mathilda D’silva is a former Singapore Idol finalist in the television franchise’s first season. She is known in the dragon boating/outrigger canoeing community, not just a paddler but as a songstress as well. Let’s get to know more about her paddling life, her story post Idol and what she thinks of the current state of the local music scene and the struggle of artists.
Q: Where did you grow up? Was music a big role in your growing up years?
Mathilda: I’m actually a first generation Singaporean-born and bred here. Growing up was about listening to cassette tapes of the Carpenters (Karen Carpenter is the reason why I learnt to play the drums), Gladys Knight, ABBA… Apparently as a baby I would wake up and dance to the 70’s show Solid Gold…and loved commercials. Guess that’s why I worked in TV and Radio later on.
Q: What/Who influenced your musicality?
M: There an old cassette tape recorded by my father of me as a child being “interviewed” and singing my top hits like Twinkle Twinkle and the McDonald’s commercial. I was obsessed with the radio, tried taking it apart to hear the little people singing in it…Obsessed with music on TV. Michael Jackson was a huge influence, but I listened to such a range of music from R&B to pop to funk to soul to rock, even metal when I was a teenager. Everything old school makes me happy.
Q: Mathilda is such a beautiful name. Were you named after someone famous or an Aunt perhaps?
M: So here’s the story, my family wanted to call me Sarah. I was born in the year where the Commonwealth Games were held in Australia and the mascot was a giant boxing Kangaroo called Matilda. So…there was a bit of a tussle between Sarah and Matilda, the PR blitz won out and that’s where the name came. My mom’s boss was French, and his wife Mathilde was the one who suggested to put the “H” in Mathilda.
Q: We are happy to know that you have continued your passion in music up to this day. If we may borrow a line from James Ingram’s hit, “How do you keep the music playing?”
M: I’m so lucky to be surrounded by great musicians and event organisers such as Crazy Elephant, Highnotes Music, Jordan Wei, Esplanade and loads more who keep calling me for gigs. My rock band Dirty Dealers keeps the fun element of what I do while my R&B, jazz and funk outfits help me to articulate my feelings…and I got a lot of those!
Q: Do you have any regular gig at the moment? Where and which night can we catch you there?
M: I alternately do two Thursdays in a month with the Dirty Dealers at Crazy Elephant. So if you love blues rock and metal, that’s for you. I’ve got a massive event happening at the Esplanade on the 6th December. More details HERE.
Q: Which venue in Singapore is your most ‘favourite stage’ to perform? Why so?
M: There’s a line in “Song For You”– I’ve acted out my life in stages, with 10,000 people watching. I love singing that song because its really my life. I have a soft spot for the Mediacorp TV Theatre, we are shifting soon but that was where Singapore Idol was filmed and my career in the industry took off from there. Sometimes during lunch time I’d sit in the empty studio as the staging hands set up for other shows and I recall those moments on TV. This year I managed to reprise the stage again…with an audience full of British Dragons, German Dragons and American Dragons Outrigger folks cheering me on!
Q: On a scale of 1-10, can you rate the current struggle of local artists? (1 being the toughest) How difficult is it now to produce a ‘local’ album given the popularity of American pop music and K-Pop to Singaporeans?
M: I’d say, 5 over 10; but before Social Media, it was just 1. Nowadays, if artistes want to be popular, they have to put in the leg work. Even with all my connections on radio, TV and the recording industry, I can honestly say it’s tough. It’s tough everywhere for musicians to become a huge hit because the massive financial marketing machine of A&R (Artists and Repertoir Departments) doesn’t exist anymore. In fact, I gave my first album away because I wasn’t interested in getting into the CD sales game. I’ve always said, live performances is where it’s at. Music is about winning hearts, one person at a time, local or otherwise.
Q: Do you want to share your fearless personal view of what needs to be done?
M: I work to fund my musical ideas. A famous judge on Singapore Idol told me that my voice was common, Singapore wasn’t interested in another Indian woman singing R&B, it would be boring blah blah blah. One half of me is really sensitive about being shot down constantly- that’s what happens in reality TV land where your face is in the New Paper every week, fashion stylists who went on air to ridicule my clothes and hair…Thankfully the other half of me says “I don’t care what you think” but with a few more cuss words in there. I’ve sung for kings and for the strangers in the street. Whatever I wanted to do, I just go out and do it. Sitting and waiting for someone to deem me worthy for a chance isn’t my style. That’s the dragon boater in me, focus up to the finish line and then Charge!
Q: When did you start Dragon boating/Outrigger canoeing?
M: I started getting into dragon boat end of 2009, stepping into the Glory days of the German Dragons Singapore (GDS) and stayed for a few years with the team. I never had a coach in my life who cared so much about my improvement, or teammates who I love so intensely despite them having left Singapore. So many memories of races, people are who I miss most. I moved from a paddler into GDS Exco as Team Affairs, leading an amazing marketing team to create some of the best and most memorable GDS parties in the history of expat dragon boating. I miss that crazy crew.
Just started Outrigger Canoe (OC) last year with the American Dragons and taught by one of the great American Dragons Captains, Tharin Walker, who laughed at my swimming abilities (which are low to none). 6 years on and I’m still in love with paddling.
Q: What benefits do you get from each sport?
M: Dragon boating is painful and tough. It will make every joint ache and then some. But the teamwork that you get from that sport is just irreplaceable. OC is a thinking paddler’s sport…I guess that’s where the older dragon boaters go out to pasture. It’s amazing and crazy though, open ocean, long distances, 6 people battling against mother nature. I’m still in awe.
Q: We understand that you are quite committed in your full-time job as Producer/Social Media Manager at MediaCorp. Do you paddle for leisure or competitive? How often do you go for training nowadays?
M: Sometimes I’m so tired I can’t stand. Between my work in TV, social media, music, paddling and everything else I do…I can’t breathe. But it’s a great life I have with amazing friends in it. I do what I love, how many people can say that?
Q: How long have you been paddling? Being involved in the paddling community for a number of years now, in your opinion, how did it evolved since?
M: Dragon boat has become a fully organised machine where expat teams are so elevated sports-wise with National Coaches, endurance training on more days…It’s hard to have an edge and keep it. The sport has also been losing a lot of the old guard, my good friends from all the different teams…some who helped to set up the teams in the first place. There’s so much history between all the expat teams, I’d hate to see those epic moments disappearing. One thing I’m proud of…is the segment now within Dragon Divas Race called the Breast Cancer Awareness race that I proposed as part of Anne and Melanie’s long running successful Dragon Divas event. With Anne’s recovery from cancer and my mother’s 4 time cancer bout…I am so glad to see this tradition of paddling with survivors still continues today.
Every single person, even the weirdos or the social butterflies who paddle to get dates…everyone has a place in the team.
Q: In terms of participation, are both sports moving into progression or are we looking at the same things as what we have had, say, three years ago?
M: I know I’m going to get into trouble for saying this but let’s be completely honest about this OC-Dragon Boat poaching business. For many years because I was in EXCO I was against my team members doing OC for fear of losing them. Just as it works in a romantic relationship, people stay when they feel a need to stay. I don’t think banning dragon boaters will prevent them from doing OC. Expat team dragon boaters and like wild horses, they will gallop where they please. Which is why I am very supportive of teams such as AustCham and American Dragons having their own OC chapter. It’s hard to have OC and Dragon Boat offered in one team because of logistics; but it’s a good way to keep your people.
Q: Tell us about your experience as a former EXCO of your team. What was your formula of keeping the fun and the team together?
M: As a former Team Affairs head of German Dragons Singapore who looks after everything from: Inter-team relations, Events, Marketing, Sponsorship, International Dragon Boat Community Representative, Boracay Race Representative, Newbies, Merchandise, Social Media and Website–this is a full time job and that’s not for someone who’s looking to be Mr/Miss Popular. This is a job for a leader who has no problem getting into the trenches and inspiring a management team to create a “feeling of belongingness” to everyone in a team. I’m so blessed that I had amazing teammates whom I’ve worked with in my tenure…from my BBQ Master to my Party B*tch, they got pushed harder (even harder than an A-boat in Singapore River Regatta) and delivered. Always get the right people for the right roles. Every single person, even the weirdos or the social butterflies who paddle to get dates…everyone has a place in the team. Give people a sense of belongingness and utilise all your soft skills to make them feel welcomed.
Enjoy a romantic musical afternoon with Mathilda D’silva, on 6th December, 3pm at the Esplanade. It’s a 1,000-seater venue, so no worries about the seating setup. Come one, come all. Admission is absolutely FREE!
Sing-along: Evergreen Favourites with Mathilda D’Silva
Venue: Esplanade Concert Hall
Date: 6 December 2015 (Sunday)
Time: 3pm – 4.15pm (75 minutes)
More information about Esplanade’s Featured Musicians.
*This interview has been edited and condensed
Photo Credit: Mathilda D’silva’s Facebook Page